A new study highlights that health care news stories often focus too heavily on the benefits of new treatments at the expense of other critical information. The study used data from HealthNewsReview.org, a University of Minnesota School of Public Health project that examines the validity of health news.
“There is a clear picture of news stories that exaggerate or emphasize the potential benefits of an idea while minimizing or totally ignoring the potential harms and costs,” said Adjunct Associate Professor Gary Schwitzer, publisher and founder of HealthNewsReview.org. “Editorial decision-makers need to understand that real people are harmed by inaccurate, imbalanced, and incomplete messages about health care interventions.”
The study was published in the journal Health Communication.
The data for the study comes from HealthNewsReview.org’s 10-point review of news stories that include claims of efficacy about interventions.
Analysis of 1,889 health news stories showed that reporting is getting more complete — stories reviewed during 2005–2010 successfully met just less than half of the criteria, but by 2010-2013, that average had improved to almost 70 percent.
But, the costs of intervention and reporting of the potential harms did not improve.
“Patients and consumers are not being helped by media messages that minimize or completely ignore harms and costs,” said Mr. Schwitzer. “News stories are incomplete without better coverage of both.”
Mr. Schwitzer said the results demonstrate that a lot can be learned by systematically reviewing and analyzing news stories, which is useful for improving the quality of news coverage.
“But, most importantly, this is important for health care consumers so they can improve their critical thinking, ask better questions, and make better health care decisions,” said Mr. Schwitzer.
Mr. Schwitzer said the take-home message of the study is clear: “beware of the news you’re buying and beware of what it says about the health care interventions being reported on.”